Trinidad and Tobago did not buy ‘cat in bag’ when we hired Mr Gary Griffith. We knew full well what to expect.
In October 2015, then Minister of National Security Edmund Dillon reported on his predecessor’s bid to purchase armoured vehicles for the police service:
‘Unknown to the PS and the Procurement and Legal Units […] a former minister of national security unilaterally gave assurance […] to the director of the Israeli company…four months prior to the Evaluation Committee’s visit to Israel; [it was] highly irregular and did not adhere to the Central Tenders Act…’
This willingness to bend the national procurement rules, a precursor, was never denied.
Griffith responded with a wild, fear-mongering and personal attack:
‘Such actions erode the public confidence, whilst increasing criminal opportunities, and allowing criminals to continue to commit serious crime without the fear of apprehension.
‘[…] His illogical comment can very well backfire […] because if any officer is killed due to the absence of these APCs, Minister Dillon must take full responsibility for his irresponsible action.’
Despite being in control of the enormous national security budget for the past three years, there has been no purchase of APCs. Was this a petulant child demanding toys for Christmas? Cosplaying John Wick leads to garish episodes often ably assisted by a breathless media representative.
Can we affirm that criminals no longer can commit serious crimes without fear of arrest?
The pushback against accountability began early and continues unabated. To buck this commissioner or his handpicked elite team is cause for transfer. But for others, there is no reprimand but a wiggly dance.
At the top of the ladder, we had Assistant Commissioner Irwin Hackshaw’s surreptitious departure and the suspension of the much-touted Mark Hernandez for misbehaviour in public office. The nation awaits the outcome of the case of Mr Christian Chandler.
At the other end, acting Sergeant Leon Modeste got transferred for investigating the alarming claim of a civilian, Cecil Skeete, who was shot dead by year-end. His boss, acting ASP Totaram Dookhie, was transferred, then sent on leave.
The policeman in the Legal Unit and the officers in Couva paid the price for non-compliance.
In May 2019, Justice Frank Seepersad chided: “Errant police officers must be made to account. It cannot be business as usual. The abuse of authority erodes public trust and confidence and, given the heightened level of crime, an all-hands on deck approach is required.”
In June 2020, Justice Joan Charles reprimanded the commissioner saying: “If the defendant persists in flagrantly disobeying the court’s directions, I have a duty to the administration of justice.”
Despite public assurances, there is painfully slow progress with the implementation of body cameras. Police and civilians capture their interactions with phone cameras in a Mickey Mouse fashion. But it is not funny since there continue to be police killings where dead men tell no tales.
The fear of crime is an indicator of uncertainty and general security. People become obsessed with crime because they believe they can do something about it, unlike their other fears and worries. The greater the economic pressure, the more afraid people become.
Citizens desiring guns is a reflection of the perception of heightened risks. The likelihood that you will be a victim of crime is a product of both the overall crime rate and the risk demographic (Koppel, 1987). The police appear to have given up on tackling the former.
Our society is being divided—good guys versus bad guys—with far-reaching implications for our democracy. The upgraded ‘Cockroaches’ philosophy arms those who can afford private security; the rest of us are mere targets for the armed.
To carry a firearm is to have a tool to kill people and be prepared to do so at any time. Yet, there is no evidence to show that having gun licences reduces or increases crimes.
But it helps some feel safe in a world that increasingly looks unsafe, confirming that there are good guys—albeit without any responsibility to tackle deep-seated societal ills. It is a macho man thing.
Simultaneously, it opens the door for corruption. The issue of the special reserve police officer allegedly caught in bribery is indicative. The discretion (and it is!) wielded by a police officer opens the opportunity to create ways to produce profits for himself and fellow officers.
The atmosphere of duplicity and hypocrisy sets the tone for lax practices. Bending the rules becomes endemic. Opportunities for bribery are only limited by the imagination and aggressiveness of those intent on private gain.
The inappropriate ‘I Support Our Service’ is embraced by those who should know better. The majority votes, via trolls and groupies, are not a good barometer of the appropriateness of police policies.
Meanwhile, Mr Dillon is off to Venezuela as our ambassador, leaving us to defend our democracy. We will catch our ‘nennen’.